Photo: Robert Thiemann , Cathedral of St. John The Divine, NYC
Twenty years ago today, Sgt Pepper might have taught his band to play, but more close to home, I was ordained as a Minister.
It was a journey that started out as a calling that I couldn’t even put into words. But from childhood, I knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to God. In time I found that renunciation was not the life for me, and that I was born to serve, with one foot in the spiritual life and one foot in the secular world. It was a long journey to the altar, but my dedication really began in childhood.
I was raised a Catholic and to think of dedicating my life to God and not be a nun was not going to go down well with the older generation of the family. On my other side of the family, my mother was from a spiritual tradition that did away with clergy and believed only in the direct relationship of the individual soul to the divine, without any need for intermediaries. Where I chose to become ordained was a Seminary that celebrated all faiths and trained Ministers to serve people of all faiths, within their own traditions. That is not to say that I am an expert in all of the world’s religions, but I had a broad enough training to conduct ceremonies and rituals in the major traditions and to serve in the spirit of these traditions, with empathy, and compassion. There is a church to which I am affiliated, but there is no congregation or institution that supports my living. I’m not paid or supported by a church and, like all of my cohort, I have had to find my own way to keep one foot in heaven and one foot on earth.
Of all the things I’ve decided to do in this life, I think that this has been the most profound journey. First, to dare to manifest that still small voice that was within me, calling me to God, then to study to become ordained, and then to dedicate myself over and over again to my own spiritual path, in order to serve others more profoundly. One thing that I think we forget, when we take vows, is that we need to continue to do our own spiritual work. Without this, we can easily become the same sorts of hypocrites that caused so many to flee the boundaries of traditional religions. Doing our own work, as Ministers, is crucial.
I struggled for some time to figure out how to serve without a congregation and without a wedding officiant business (as many of my cohort have done). Over time, I found that quietly serving God is possible anywhere – even in the corporate world. I found this matched the work I did especially in the world of Sustainability but I also found that I could serve in the world of Governance, Risk and Compliance. Wherever there are people, I’ve found, there is a chance to serve with compassion and empathy. I may not have been overtly serving religious needs, but I have found that I am always confronted with the opportunity to serve the spiritual needs of others – sometimes simply in their process of facing redundancies.
Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude has become a primary vehicle for me to serve. I want to thank my readers for witnessing my own journey and for allowing me the privilege of thinking that perhaps I might have something to pass on to my readers.
I am grateful to the many friends and family members, who supported me along this entire journey. On the day that I was ordained, my sister (now deceased) and her husband travelled to New York City to witness my ordination and the church was filled with so many friends who have been on this journey with me. Although the door is a door one must walk through alone, I am grateful that I had so many supporters there to witness it and others (not present) cheering me on. It is a lovely warm feeling to be so surrounded with that affection and, over the years, their witnessing it has helped to keep me accountable to my vows.
The thing is, it doesn’t require such a momentous ceremony and all the pomp and ceremony of a commitment to God in order to be of service to something greater than oneself. All it takes is the decision to find what matters to you and to be of service to that. It might manifest in serving a cause, or an ideal. Volunteering for a cherished cause is a great route, for many people.
Service does require sacrifice, sometimes. I made vows and some have been easy to keep because they go with my natural inclinations but there are others with which I’ve struggled – like everyone who tries to live their values. But living a life misaligned with our values creates a kind of spiritual discomfort that can lead to hopelessness, a sense of lacking meaning, and ultimately, despair. Whether happiness, or spiritual enlightenment is your wish, the sacrifices of living a life of integrity is essential.
Service, especially when it aligns with what we value the most, gives us purpose and it makes us feel like our lives are meaningful. I encourage you to experiment with ways to be of service and see what feels right, and most rewarding, to you. I wish you so many blessings on your own journey.
Today is not 2558. Today is 2579. But, on Day 2558, we hit seven years of gratitude. I completely missed it.
I missed it because there was a death in my immediate family two days before.
I completely forgot to show up to any appointments or notice anything much that entire week. I’d be surprised if I had been performing as normal. I’m just not an automaton.
You might think I’d be angry with God but I’m not. Yes, I’ve experienced anger but not with God. In fact, I’ve been grateful. I’m grateful for the life lessons that I experienced for having been a part of the same family as the person who passed away. I’m grateful for the memories that I carry with me and although the manner of their final sendoff is not as I would have hoped, I’m grateful that I found a way (creatively, I might add) to say goodbye and get the closure that I needed. And finally, I’m grateful that I was able to get right with the person before they died. I can’t be responsible for how they received my love, forgiveness, amends and release, but I know that I did what I needed to do to be able to look at myself in the mirror and feel good. I made sure that I said goodbye with authenticity and integrity before the final moment came.
When the final moment came, I was not there. I was not there when my mother’s final moments came, either. I was the only family member who was living far away at the time. And so, perhaps I am the best equipped to know how to get closure when you can’t be there. While I’m not grateful to have lived most of my life without my mother, I am grateful for the lesson that struggling for years to get closure gave me: get right before the time comes and stay right with people. Never let a day end with anger or unforgiveness between you. And always, love. And if you love, let it be expressed.
One of the most powerful expressions of love is, of course, gratitude. Without this practice, I’m not sure I could bear this loss with any grace at all.
Even as illness hovered and death came to our home, I knew this anniversary was coming up for some time now, and I have wondered all year whether I would experience some form of 7-year itch with this practice. All I can say is that the more that I practice gratitude, and allow myself to express my appreciation, the more open my heart becomes. The more open my heart becomes, the deeper this practice becomes and the more joy there is – even in the face of sorrow.
If I’ve got an itch, it is to see how deep this joy can go and the many ways that gratitude will give me grace in sorrowful times.
It wasn’t until I posted a video yesterday and needed the day count that I realized I had reached this milestone. It was Father’s Day and my living family of origin was gathering to wish my Dad a happy day. It was summer solstice and the longest day of the year. And it was 2500 days of gratitude.
I think milestones are important markers in our lives. They let us reflect and appreciate and they let us dream. They help us to make meaning of our lives.
To me, this is the biggest milestone, yet.
I’m not sure what to make of it. I texted a few people who have been on the journey with me from the beginning. Everybody wanted to know what I was going to do to celebrate. Sadly, I wasn’t able to do anything to celebrate the day. However, I will take myself kayaking later this week to celebrate both my birthday and this milestone.
One person wrote back about how this was a great personal commitment. That didn’t feel quite like it captured what this was for me. Of course, it is a personal commitment, but it has become more than that. It seems to be morphing into something but right now it is in the in-between and so that makes it hard to describe.
What strikes me about 2500 days of gratitude is how quickly time passes and yet how so much has changed. These past 2500 days have been some of the hardest of my life and I am hoping that there are better times ahead but I also know that there are some very hard times coming. With all that said, I can’t imagine where I would be without gratitude. I’d be a horrible, cranky, angry person if I were still here on this planet at all. Gratitude has been a life buoy for me. But, it has been more than that. It has been an organizing principle around which I have designed a way of being. It is also the cornerstone of a set of secular spiritual practices and it seems to be the fuel for a kind of life mission.
For the first time, I’ve reached a milestone, knowing that it was coming, and not really being able to say much about it. I know that this year I’ve found my ministry in it. I also realize that there is something about Faith that I need to flesh out in this set of practices. But I’ve also been discouraged about my ability to reach people and about people’s possible lack of appetite for the simple yet profound practices. Beyond that, I think I need to just sit with it for a little while longer.
I feel quiet.
I was with my family yesterday and I never mentioned my milestone. I’m not even sure whether they are aware that I have a website, let alone over 100 videos on YouTube. Sometimes, we need to protect what matters most to us.
Some people can’t stop bragging. I’m not one of those people. Sometimes people think I’m being la-dee-dah because I mention the time I went to a Sufi centre in Istanbul or that I got to attend a climate change conference in Bali, or that I saw most of Caravaggio’s surviving paintings at an exhibition in Budapest. It is just the life I’ve lived, living overseas. But still, I learned a long time ago to keep quiet about the things I’ve done, with most people. I have discovered that many people who have done something out of the ordinary keep quiet about it. So I’m not alone in keeping things to myself, especially if I think that a person might not appreciate the accomplishment I have achieved.
Still, it makes me wonder.
And so, maybe I will just sit in wonder and in silence and gently paddle my way around this milestone and let it reveal itself as it wills. In another two months, we will have another milestone of 7 years to celebrate. Reaching the “Quarter Way” marker feels bigger than even 7 years but maybe by the 7-year mark I will understand this moment and have more to say about what this moment means. I am reminded of the marker on the pier in Key West that marks the southernmost point of the United States. I always felt wonder, when I saw it, at all that lies beyond.
What a year this has been! As always, this anniversary sort of crept up on me. I knew it was coming but this time of year seems to always be so busy that I never find the time to sit down and plan anything special. It was a miracle that I managed to plan a party for my first year anniversary. I am sure that I would not have managed it if it had not been for the gentle prodding of friends.
I like birthdays and last year’s 5-year marker was a big one. I spent the first half of year 6 just being grateful to be alive. Little did I know that 2020 would bring a string of news stories that would make me want to crawl into bed for at least the rest of the year. In the end, I’m still grateful for the same thing: to be alive.
I had been struggling with a sense of boredom when, this past year, I hit another milestone and it was a daunting one. I passed the 2,000 day mark and having spent 1/5 of the time to which I had committed, I wondered: what have I really achieved for the cause of gratitude, in this time? In this past year, I have started a YouTube channel and I have been creating gratitude related content on a regular basis. That trial by fire was a great way to get rid of boredom. But it is hard to measure impact when the goal is simply to practice for a certain number of days. Measuring impact is something I will be giving some attention in the coming year. There is no way to increase impact (except by a fluke of luck) without measuring it.
During this past year, it also became clear to me that I am being called to write the stories of love. I don’t mean some Harlequin romance novel. I mean that I am being called to bring love to the forefront of my gratitude practice. I think I struggled with this idea, initially, because I had been burned by love. But, one terrible romance cannot get in the way of a whole way of being that is at the centre of my spiritual life. And so, I am being called to bring my spiritual path of love to the gratitude table.
I thank you for 6 great years together and I hope that you will continue into the 7th year and an exploration of gratitude and love, together.
During the first year of my gratitude practice, I made it a habit to ‘check-in’ about what was going on with me, at regular intervals. This was how I discovered the impetus to give back, and my increasing capacity and desire for connection – both interpersonally but also at a more profound level, in experiences of Oneness. I’ve also observed, at these check-ins, the urge to find purpose and meaning and the necessity for mindfulness, presence and authenticity in order to live gratefully.
I will say that the marker of 2,000 days feels more daunting than even the 5-year mark. We’re used to counting time in years when we’re asked how long we’ve lived somewhere or been in a job. It’s a kind of backward counting up of time spent. With the counting of days, there is more of a sense of counting time that is remaining. At 2,000 days, I am 1/5 of the way through the Ten Thousand Day goal. Having equated ten thousand days as my remaining life expectancy, I feel the urgency of time passing and making the most of my spiritual practice and habits of living well and gratefully.
And yet, standing at the 2,000-day mark, the first thing I have been noticing over the past year is a kind of apathy and boredom in my practice. I don’t think grateful living is boring. I don’t think being thankful is boring. I just found myself unmotivated to practice, and I was finding myself frustrated with the place I find myself, in life. I have been resisting my life with so much passion that I lack more than a drop of it to look deeply enough into the life that I wish was different to find things for which to be grateful.
As I write this, I see that what I needed to do was surrender to this little life that I find so boring, in comparison to the life I’ve led these last 20 years. I needed to surrender to the quiet and see what I would find in my stillness.
Friends and spiritual companions have tried to advise me to stay still and just be. In that stillness, a lot of things can arise, and I think that is what terrified me. Being back in my family of origin, I knew that whatever arose and needed to be healed would be something from which I have run, for as long as I could walk. Perhaps that’s why I chose not to surrender and I filled my life with travel, art, sport and a fair amount of Netflix. I fell victim of the terror of the pain that precedes healing.
When you run, you never get far away from that thing. That thing is strong and is always nipping at your heels, threatening to overtake you. There is no peace in running. No amount of travel and no overcrowded schedule could keep the dogs at bay, forever.
I’ve said this before, but gratitude is not the property of the positive psychology movement, although it is only positive psychologists who seem to have had interest in promoting more good feeling, rather than alleviating the bad. It has – as spiritual trends do – gotten co-opted by the spiritual BS artists out there. We may not know them when we see them, but if we pay attention, we can smell them a mile away. The yoga dudes and dudettes who pranam and utter platitudes of non-attachment, but whose identity is tied up with being a ‘teacher’. I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting them – usually they are chatting-up some member of the attractive sex, talking tantra or some other spiritual tradition in which they’ve superficially dabbled, for their own egoistic purpose. I don’t fault anyone for following them, for a time. Finding a teacher who is the real McCoy is not easy. I went through 3 different spiritual masters and tested my teacher for nearly 12 years before I was certain that I had found the right path for me. And, I’m certain he is the real deal. He is grounded and concerned with matters of both the soul and the spirit. They are very different things.
I have never been one to approach the practice of grateful living as the endless pursuit to ascent to Spirit. That is ungrounded, and can’t be sustained. I’ve always believed that a spiritually mature practice must not only reach to the heights of spirit but also be prepared to descend into the depths of the soul.
I’ve also never claimed to be a perfect spiritual wayfarer. I’ve only claimed to be on the path and depending on where you are in your journey, I may have walked a little further. I still have a very long way to walk, and if you’re ahead of me, I thank you for lighting the way.
I have been sitting with this feeling of boredom and dissatisfaction with my practice for more than 9 months now. I’ve plumbed the depths before, finding terrible beauty in my pain as it is transformed. But this has been different. It’s been neither glorious, nor agonizing. It has just been meh.
The Universe handed me a gift, in the form of a surgery that went horribly wrong. One day I was stuck in the petty resentments that I had been carrying with me everywhere I ran these past few years and, perhaps, all my life. The next day, I was at the mercy of a surgeon who ended up gifting me a month in various hospitals and several surgeries. I learned some private and painful things, in the hospital, about the isolation of serious illness and about the unique gifts and woundings that I received from my family of origin. I came out of hospital a stronger woman – not just for having had my internal organs and systems repaired by the best liver surgeon in the country. I came out stronger for being unable, any longer, to entertain the distraction of busyness or the denial of what needs healing deep within me. I came out with a steadfast conviction to do what I came here to do.
There have been rapturous moments in my life where I feel such great joy and gratitude for my existence that I know that I could die, happily, in that moment. Was I ready to die? No. Would I cling to life in the final second if I were to die in those moments? Yeah, probably. But, last August, around about midnight, I was awoken and told that I was heading to major reconstructive surgery, and the porter was there to take me. I was alone. I barely had time to text my folks and my small prayer circle of friends to let them know. My organs were shutting down and the surgeon needed to get in there immediately. I was scared. I didn’t spend all of my life as a wayfarer to choose fear in this moment. As the porter wheeled me down the hallway, the nurses took my hand and wished me well. I cried, all the way to surgery, knowing that I’d go in there with no final words, no final hug or kiss. I was alone and I may never come back.
I knew that it was up to me to fight my way through as much as it was the surgeon’s job to keep me alive. And so, I started humming the theme music of Rocky, in my head. It sounds stupid, but we reach for whatever comes up from our subconscious to achieve what we need, in those moments. When I was finally wheeled into the operating room, I followed the team of surgeons’ directions as they stitched in an epidural and lay me down for anesthetic. Humming Rocky and telling my surgeon I’d fight to see him on the other side, I laid back. In my last conscious moment, from my soul, I surrendered and called out to my God: “You are the surgeon.” It might seem a weird thing to say, but to me it simply meant that I was surrendering with complete faith to the will of my Beloved.
We have to live in this world where the compelling story is the rising up in Spirit. But we must also keep a foot in eternity and move to the demands of the soul.
The trouble that I’ve had with gratitude lately is, I think, rooted in resentment. Some things may never change, but we can change our relationship to them. We can let go of resentment and find things for which to be grateful. By the time I was released from hospital, more than 2 weeks later, I took with me a renewed sense of purpose, a clarity of who is really in charge of this tiny life of mine, a deepening of faith, and an awareness of the imperative of surrender. In some ways, I grew up in hospital.
I know the strength of my relationships. I know where I need to place my attention both in this world and the other.
And, this brings me to the second thing that is arising at this time of check-in. I am acutely aware of the depth of my capacity to love and also of my fears of being loved and broken open by that love. There is an imbalance there that I know needs to be sorted out, if I’m going to have the experience that I wish to have in this incarnation and beyond. My path is the path of love, and so I’ve got a lot to do.
Fortunately, I have a rising awareness and experience of the marriage of gratitude and love. I’ve not conducted any clinical trials or studied a group of students’ brains. All I can say is that, for me, I am becoming very aware of the connection between gratitude and love and I intend to make this connection a subject of observation, contemplation and action.
Photo: Brittney Burnett
I don’t think this revelation is unique to a Sufi or a bhaktan or a spiritual mystic. I think that through gratitude we can all clean the mirrors of our hearts and create, amplify and reflect more love in the world.
That’s all I have for day 2,000. Of course, I’m grateful to all of you for walking with me, on this journey. I hope that you are finding something of value here for your own unique voyage.
Some of you may have wondered if we didn’t miss an anniversary party. Well, yes, we did.
On 17 August, I was in acute recovery, having undergone a significantly traumatic and life threatening episode with 4 surgeries/procedures in 3 different hospitals. I knew it was my 5th year anniversary of this powerful gratitude practice, and while I quietly and privately recognized the milestone, I was not able to have a celebration. Being alive and being grateful for my life was celebration enough.
Sure, I think it is unfortunate that the 5 year marker went without celebration. A year ago, I decided that I wanted to have a big marker for my 5th year anniversary. I was thinking of a big party or a podcast with contributors through the years. I wasn’t thinking of a near death experience and the natural gratitude and shift in attitude that this would bring. We put out our wishes into the universe, with our thoughts, but we don’t control the form in which our wishes are manifested.
Be Careful What You Wish For!
Gratitude is easy when things are going well. At my first anniversary party, someone expressed their frustration with their own inability to practice gratitude, because life had been so hard for them. I get it. It’s easy to be grateful when life is good. Easy, but perhaps, not profound. I honestly believe that it is in the darkest times where we uncover the acute beauty of gratitude. It is easy to ask “Why is this happening to me?” and to feel bitter about our circumstances. While I did not feel this way about my surgeries, on several occasions over these past 5 years (more so the last 4), I have fallen into self-pity over my unjust circumstances, and I’ve experienced a crisis of faith. Life experiences, even the worst experience, are opportunities for us to learn. I believe that we get these lessons with life challenges that offer us the opportunity to develop our characters. I know it doesn’t always feel that way. In the moment, it hurts. Sometimes, that pain is soul crushing in its intensity and the worse it hurts, the deeper is that wound. The way I see it, so too, is the greater our potential for healing and growth.
I call this post “5 Years Strong” not only because I am gradually healing, physically, or because I feel grounded, and strong in my spirit, following my hospital stay. I call it 5 Years Strong because getting to this 5 year milestone has taken more strength than I could have imagined I would be called to find within me, when I started this journey. The first year was a piece of cake. Sometimes I was actually grateful just for cake! But, as I moved deeper into this practice, I have found myself challenged to be grateful in the face of a series of life events that a friend characterized as a page from the book of Job. I made a major change in my life, only to find that I did so under false pretenses on the part of the other contracting party. And I had a relationship that I could characterize in much the same way, which ended with cruelty and brutality. My living situation and my financial security have been precarious throughout this time, as has been my health. Oh, yes, it has been hard to be grateful and to walk my life in Oneness, and service, living and celebrating moments of joy. Sometimes I have failed. It has sometimes been beyond my power to stay positive about life. In those moments, all I could do was find 3 things – 3 small and simple things – for which to be grateful, every day. Holding on to gratitude gave me a light, (sometimes the tiniest of candles) – even when I had lost my faith, or was in so much despair that I couldn’t see my way forward – to guide my way through the dark times.
As I stood on the threshold of my 5 year anniversary, looking back and forward, beyond that threshold, I felt that I’d come through hell, and survived. It is time to learn whatever this era in my life has offered to teach me, to complete this cycle and to move on to building a better life for myself and others.
I was feeling pretty proud of myself for my achievement, as the 5 year milestone approached. Maybe my lesson came in getting slapped down in a big enough way to learn that the practice is hindered with egoistic ideas about personal achievement. The practice is about surrendering to the deep humility and wonder of this incredible gift of life. I see where I need to improve my practice.
We’ve made it through great times and some tough times, together, in these past 5 years. We are as vulnerable as delicate Kintsugi pottery; and sometimes we’ve all failed at something or felt broken. In healing all the places where we are broken – in body, heart and spirit – our scar tissue makes these wounds stronger and they become an inseparable part of us, like a memory or a marker, on our journey, of the lessons we’ve learned that made us grow. Therein, lies the gold.
Today, marks 1,500 days of gratitude practice. Recently we celebrated four years together, but somehow this milestone takes my breath away. It has become commonplace in our lives to mark annual events (birthdays, anniversaries) and it is easy to become complacent. But, when I break this down to days – as is done in a gratitude journal – this milestone feels profoundly tangible. I remember when I started this task and it was a 7 day challenge. Then it seemed that 21 days would be onerous, and somehow we’ve hit the 1,500 day marker on the journey to 10,000 days of gratitude.
Ten thousand days amounts to the opportunity to witness a complete lifetime transformation in a person. But we transform in so many ways along the way; we don’t reach the end point and suddenly – poof – we are a different person. Each day brings something new, and each day we either handle it with an overarching view of cynicism, bitterness and regret or we find those small moments of gratitude, joy, oneness and service (and the other tools we’ve added along the way). By finding those gems each day, we can not only celebrate the wonder of life but also weather and more easily transform those periods – and they can stretch on for years, sometimes – of real challenge. Not everyone will stay the course of 10,000 days with me, and so it is in the small steps and the consistent practice, that I hope emotional contagion takes hold with the reader.
One thousand and five hundred days – without break – fills me with awe. I was proud of the first year milestone, but this milestone is the first time I’ve been filled with awe at the power of one day at a time. I’m not disciplined in all areas of my life. A quick look at my filing basket at work or my treat cupboard in my kitchen will tell you that. And, at the same time, I have done many things in my life that have required discipline, but those efforts played to my strengths of study and solo sports. Gratitude – well – that is not something that I remember seeing around me much, as I was growing up. It isn’t that we were particularly entitled. Each achievement was simply the stepping stone for the next, in an effort to keep one’s head above water. My parent’s generation sacrificed so that I could have a better life. And not to be grateful, now, seems stingy, to say the least.
Today, I am awed and humbled by the spiritual discipline it took to get to this marker. I’ve tried for 30 years to meditate and I’m still rubbish at it. I remember learning from the yoga sutras that one only becomes ‘firmly grounded’ in spiritual practice if it is done “for a long time, without break, and in all earnestness.” My meditation and yoga practice has been sporadic and I didn’t have much hope of becoming firmly grounded, in this lifetime. Having achieved 1,500 days of gratitude, I am beginning to believe that a steady meditation practice is possible for me.
Don’t get me wrong, my basic personality hasn’t changed in the last 4 years or so. I was raised in a culture of pessimism. I still see the risk, first, when I look at a situation. But with 1,500 days of gratitude practice, I have built new neuropathways that allow me also to see the opportunity, at a second glance. We may not be able to undo all the conditioning of our lives, (and maybe we can), but, I certainly know that we can develop new options.
Today, I’m grateful. I’m grateful for all my readers and friends, without whose support I, personally, might not have made it. On those days when I was stuck in a loop of want or self pity, I’m grateful for their compassionate understanding, first, and then a gentle reminder of my gratitude practice. I’m grateful to those who gave of their time to be interviewed for the website and whose story provides inspiration to us all. This morning I wrote to a photographer whose images I often use – or want to use – on this website (Annie Spratt) to thank her. It is a small gesture and she is just one of the many photographers and artists who create the visual landscape of this space. To them all, I say: Thank you. Finally, I’m deeply indebted and grateful to C. Michael Frey and L.H. for their design and web development assistance to create this platform.
Thank you for being a part of this community and continuing journey. As always, I invite you to share your own Odyssey with us.
On the 17th of August, 2018, we complete 1462 days, or the 4th anniversary of our gratitude practice together!
I tend to get reflective as milestones pass. Four years of gratitude practice may sound repetitive but each new year brings new experiences and challenges. It is the journey through these experiences that, for me, has deepened my practice.
For me, the first year of practice was all about exploring the experience of daily gratitude practice. Like many who begin the practice, I found there were many days when it was hard to be grateful. Many times, I was grateful for the simple pleasures of a bowl of soup and the comfort of a cool pillow. In year two, I committed to 10,000 days, launched this site and experimented with the frequency of the practice. I invited you to find a frequency of practice for you that would be sustainable because 10,000 days is a lot of years. Just prior to our 2nd year milestone, together, I moved across the world, and I was filled with promise and hope and ready for a new chapter.
Major life changes are not easy and that third year was both the best and the worst of times, for me. I had a lot of hopes, and promises were made to me. When those promises were broken and hopes dashed, it was a traumatic time.
During the third year, someone close to me insinuated that expressing my anger or depression over my circumstances and also publicly writing about my experience of gratitude and related practices was hypocritical. I find that to be complete misunderstanding of what it is to walk a contemplative (or spiritual) path in life. My friend, Swami Divyananda, used to say that those who are on the spiritual paths are imperfect, flawed and challenged people. If we were not, we would be enlightened beings and would not be drawn to a spiritual path. We also don’t need to be enlightened beings to put ourselves out there to light the way down a particular path. We simply need to be somewhere further down the path than someone who is at the beginning.
I try not to dismiss what people say to me, outright. I try it on for size and see if it fits. I didn’t think the judgement fit, but I did wonder if I was revealing enough of the reality of my own day to day struggles, in order to be relatable. While this is the place where we come to share our gratitude and not bitch about life, I felt that it might be helpful to focus more on how gratitude helps overcome the hard times. Year 4 taught me that being simultaneously grateful and angry (or depressed) was the opposite of hypocritical. It was, in fact, fundamental to living gratefully through all of life’s ups and downs – it was the practice of being Authentic.
Authenticity is a kind of trendy term among the millennial market at the moment, like kale chips and virtual dating, but it is a crucial practice that I believe deserves to be made explicit in this work. Unless we can be real, and accept ourselves – warts and all – we are unable to be consistently and meaningfully grateful. We start where we are, and we build on it.
As the clocked ticks over to the 5th year of practice, I feel it is also important to make explicit the practice of being real or Authentic, as well as another practice that has been at the foundation of both being real and my approach to grateful living: Mindfulness.
Mindfulness is another kale-chip-and-virtual-dating on-trendy word these days, and I haven’t started being mindful in recent years. I have worked on being mindful and present for most of my adult life. I believe it is essential in any contemplative practice. Mindfulness allows us to notice all thoughts, emotions and impulses that arise within us, without attachment or secondary emotions that can arise from judgement. This lack of self-judgement, over time, allows us to be present with what is and to bring our authentic selves to every engagement. Without presence, we cannot be grateful, notice moments of joy, see chances to be of service, experience connectedness, and live intentionally, with purpose.
Mindful living is essential for all of our practices, including Oneness. Mindful acceptance of ourselves, without judgement and with an open heart, enables us to have empathy for others. Towards the end of year 4, Empathy became a theme in my posts. With empathy and forgiveness we can transform resentments into opportunities for gratitude.
By being Authentic about my real life circumstances, being Mindful and present in those circumstances and using Empathy to take a wider perspective on these circumstances, I’ve been able to experience and process a lot of grief, anger and resentments and move through them to forgiveness and gratitude. I suspect that without these three practices, I’d be carrying those resentments with me like old friends.
I struggled with gratitude in both year 3 and 4, and when I struggle with a practice, I try to see where it is I might be getting stuck and what it is that I need to have in place before I can be firm in my practice. Year 4 was really an opportunity to explicitly tease out some foundations upon which my gratitude practice rests and as we head into year 5, these three practices will become a part of our toolkit. (Kale chips and virtual dating, optional)
I’m grateful for all those who have continued to follow this journey and have been on their own gratitude journey with me. I’d like to hear from you about any challenges you’ve faced in keeping true to the path of grateful living and what tools have helped you.
Thank you for continuing the journey, together. Onward to the 5th Year!
What practices have helped you stay the course of grateful living, this year?
As we enter our 4th year of Gratitude Practice, a word of Thanks….
On the 17th of August, we marked the 3rd year of this gratitude practice. We had a party to celebrate our first year on 20 August 2015, but I started this practice on Facebook on the 17 August, 2014.
In prior years, I’ve looked back at what we’ve achieved, but this has not been an easy year for me. I have to admit that I’ve struggled to stay positive and to be grateful. Depression, panic, and anger have been my companions as much as gratitude, joy, and oneness. I’ve been stuck in my own pain more than I have been able to serve, it seems. And, because its been such a difficult year to keep that balance a positive one, our anniversary passed, without me noticing it.
But, as much as I – and maybe you – have struggled with a personal or professional life that have been painfully disappointing and faced, every day, the darkening of the world news, we have stayed the course and we deserve to celebrate that.
I have always said that I am personally most inspired by moments of gratitude found in the darkest hour. And frankly life is always a dance with adversity as much as it is with ease and joy. We started this journey of gratitude on Facebook when I was terribly ill. Daily gratitude practice helped me to overcome that challenge and to inspire others. Internal challenges are not as cut and dried and progress as easy to see as when it is when the issue is physical. I understand that. And yet, we are still here.
We are all still here!
I have learned that frequent practice is essential in difficult times. During the year, I returned to a daily practice on Facebook, with friends, and I’m sorry that I was not in a place to be able to write publicly as much as I would have wished I could. Most of us are not able to give our best when we are struggling and I urge you to go gently with yourselves in your own times of sorrow.
I have also learned that grief is a lonely place.
I have faced judgement for being depressed or angry or for experiencing anxiety this year. Not for the experience itself, but because it stretched on too long for the patience of others. When someone dies, people are, for example, sympathetic for the first week following the loss. But compassion fades. From experience, those who are in touch with their loss and their emotions surrounding loss do not generally get over it within a week, or even a year. It is usually that second week, second month, and second year that is the loneliest for those who are struggling to put their life together again after the shock of a loss. When one has truly grieved a loss, life will never, ever be the same again.
I never aimed to create a saccharine site where all we did was write ‘It’s all good,’ and then stuffed our suffering down into the depths of our souls where it could ferment and cause illness. To me, the most meaningful offering I can give to others is to say ‘My life is difficult and I’m feeling awful and I can’t seem to want to get out of bed. But I’m working these tools of gratitude (and joy, oneness and service to find meaning and purpose) all with faith that this low moment will pass.’ I invite you to witness as much of my journey as I can bear to reveal and you can bear to witness, so that you will know that you are not the only one who sometimes struggles with loss and grief and anger and panic that seems will never end. I applaud anyone – including myself – for trying each day to apply the tools, even when it feels impossible.
I will never judge you for your grief. Instead, I hope that you will find a place of solace, here.
Let us never use our commitment to these practices to shame one another for not doing as well at our work as someone thinks we should be doing, or for having difficult and dark emotions or for cursing or otherwise behaving imperfectly in times of distress. We know when we are not doing as much as we wish we could. We are all doing the best that we can. I will never judge you for trying and falling down on your gratitude practice. I will, if only by example, try my very best to encourage you to keep getting back up again when life sucks so hard you don’t know where to turn.
Fall 9,999 times; Get up 10,000 times.
Together, we WILL make Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude.
As I do each year, I re-affirm my commitment to living a grateful life through 10,000 days spent observing that for which I am grateful, and making my life one of service to life itself, living a life of joy, from a sense of purpose, and of Oneness experienced through the awe of nature, art and spirituality.
I will tell my story of this journey because I believe that storytelling is how life’s meaning is revealed. And I invite you to share your stories, in the comments, in an interview or in some new – as yet unknown manner – because it is in mutual sharing that community is forged and a new culture of grateful living can spread.
I’m grateful to readers who have stayed the course with me, through the dark times of winter and the strange and curious death and rebirth that is currently in process. And I’m grateful to all who have shared their stories with us over these past three years.
I acknowledge and remember the friends and loved ones we’ve lost this past year.
And, I am truly thankful for another trip around the sun, together. I look forward to our 4th year…
The number 1,000 appears in the Bible some 50 times. In terms of time, 1,000 is a ‘millenia’ and when referring to quantity, the number conveys the immensity of the thing in question without the totality of it. In health and development, research has shown that the first 1,000 days of life are what UNICEF call’s the ‘brain’s window of opportunity’ where the future health of an individual is largely set and can either set a child on the path to wellbeing or to a life of morbidity and early mortality. The first thousand days are are immensely important for the totality of one’s life and that is why health and development agencies focus their investments in those first 1,000 days. So how do we apply this to a spiritual practice?
The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali advises:
Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness
In some Buddhist traditions, 1,000 repetitions of a practice is the magic figure at which one becomes an adept.
In some traditions, it takes ten years to even begin to walk the path. So, let’s not get carried away with pats on the back just yet. We have another 9,000 days to tackle!
My friend and much admired colleague Alicia once reminded me that we are in such a fast paced world that we often don’t pause to take a moment to reflect and appreciate our accomplishments before we move on to the next challenge. And although I am inclined to continue to push the envelope by explicitly adding new practices, it is a joy to reach the first 1,000 days that have firmly grounded us in the practice. This has been the heart, soul and mind’s ‘window of opportunity’ to become attuned to a higher vibration, develop new neural pathways for positive emotions and for the practice to become habitual.
In the first 1,000 days of Gratitude practice, we organically added joy as a by-product of gratitude and then came to see that a sense of abundance led us to want to give back to the world in service. A sense of connection with others when we looked to be of service in the world grew into our concept of looking for a sense of Oneness in our lives. After the first year of practice, we moved to a weekly post and started to look for meaning in our experience. Without being explicit, this has become a fifth practice.
Meaning as I define it, is the symbolic value we give to our experience. It is the sense we make of the chaos of our lives. It is the thread of narrative that we write out of our daily experience and which helps us to know who we are, to be in awe of our place in creation and to discover our values in this lifetime. Meaning then, is no small thing. It tells us the why of what we are doing. We can find meaning in times that are good as well as those that are full of sorrow. As we reach upwards to spirit with Gratitude and Joy, we reach into our depths of soulfulness with Oneness and Meaning.
Related to the concept of meaning is living with a sense of Purpose. Purpose, as I define it, is living in alignment with our values and using our gifts to translate those values into action with the intent to create a positive impact in the world. Happiness scholars argue that having and working towards a sense of Purpose is one of the key ingredients to creating a life of Meaning. And so, the two are inextricably lined and as we formally add the search for Meaning to our practices, we will add working towards a sense of Purpose, as well.
As I anticipate the road ahead and reflect upon the 999 days that preceded this one, I feel so grateful for all those who have been on this journey with me. Getting through the first 1,000 days of practice was no small feat and it didn’t happen without inspiration from others. If there was something wise that I did to get this practice grounded, it was to seek out and speak to those who inspired me, so that I could learn from them the secrets to carrying on with a difficult task when things were not always easy. I am grateful to all those artists like Louis Masai, WRDSMTH, Food of War, Noriaki, Matthew Del Degan, Monsu Plin, and C. Michael Frey who have inspired us and shared with our community their beautiful hearts and souls through their artwork. I am grateful to all those who are not necessarily artists but who are working in their own capacities to make the world a better place, including Alexandra Jackman, Alicia Altorfor Ong, Lord Richard Layard, Action for Happiness , Elie Calhoun, and James Wheale of the Nomadic Community Gardens. They have been an inspiration to me, and I hope they have been, to you as well. And, because love, and music are my own personal spiritual path, I am grateful to Dan Shears, Jesse Cook, Chris Church and Josh Savage for sharing their music and their hearts with us.
I never know who is reading these posts unless you choose to comment. But I do always write these posts with you, specifically, in mind. I am grateful to you for coming here and witnessing this journey. It is a joy whenever I hear that someone has been inspired to live more gratefully and even if I don’t know who you are, know that you are embraced by me, and we are a community. You are always part of the circle of Oneness at Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude.
Over the past 999 days, I have at times wondered why I continue to post publicly about my private life. I wonder why I do what many could see as a pedestrian practice, over and over and over again. I have come to realize that I value inspiration and one purpose of my life and my time on earth – one of the things that sets my soul on fire – is the potential to inspire others to live a more sustainable, meaningful and connected life. Rather than just quietly living my own life of gratitude, I have chosen to make show up and make public my triumphs and my struggles with as much truth and vulnerability as I can muster. And so, as we turn the page from 1,000 days my service is to continue to keep showing up to these practices with you.
In the past few weeks leading up to this milestone, I returned to writing a daily gratitude post with the audience being my friends on Facebook. For me, personally, if there is any meaning in the writing of a 1,000 day post, and the work of the 999 days leading up to it, it is the way opening my heart to you and laying bare my life has repaid me with love and fullness beyond measure. Words today fail to express how grateful I truly am for you. I hope that witnessing and (it is my hope) joining in these practices has and will contribute to your deeply fulfilled life, dear reader.
Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 725 – Day 738)
Last month we celebrated our first year as TTDOG and 2 years of personal gratitude practice. When we reached the first milestone of a year of personal gratitude practice, I threw a party in London. This year has been much more subdued in terms of celebrations. This milestone comes in the midst of the most stressful, chaotic and manic-paced 4 months of recent memory. The pace may slow down soon (I hope) and while I had anticipated this would be a challenging time, and tried to set things in motion to cover my absence from TTDOG, things don’t always work out as we plan. We haven’t been posting much here at TTDOG.
When we hit 365 days, I was grateful for all the people in my life because without them, there would be nothing to write. I am even more so, now. We knew that keeping up with the website during this challenging time would be difficult but we wanted to do something meaningful to mark the milestone. Since community has been a key theme in the past year, we put a call out to the community to help create a milestone post and you responded.
With gratitude, we are delighted to present the voices of TTDOG’s community on our gratitudeaversary!
Photo: Annie Spratt
URSPO is one of TTDOG’s most dedicated readers and a writer in his own right. We have followed one another’s writing for nearly a decade. I am personally delighted each time he takes a few moments to write a comment. His words are always well considered, insightful and advance the conversation. Candidly, it means a lot to me to know that the time I take in reflective practice and in writing about it publicly is having an impact on others – even if it is only one person. I would still do the practice, but doing it publicly is a vulnerable action that I need not undertake. While there are likely lurkers out there reading and not commenting, it is satisfying to know that it means something to someone. We are grateful for all the comments from URSPO since our first day of practice and we asked him to share a little about what being part of this community has meant to him:
“I have been a regular reader of TTDOG for some time. I am very glad to be part of the blog. I’ve had many delights from reading its prose; I have greatly benefited from the entries. The chief lesson from Tania’s blog is gratitude, of course. She continually reminds us to look for the gratitude in all that happens in our lives.
There is always something for which to be grateful. This is not mere complacent wish-thinking. Studies show when we focus on the positive it trains our brains to think positively and be healthy in our approaches.
A happy consequence of her posts is I do not lose touch of gratitude. She comforts me; she stiffens my spine when I feel despondent. I start each day with the prayer “I thank thee lord for thou hast given me another day’. When I need help I evoke Tania and find the gratitude. I feel grateful for her and her journey. I am honored to be part of it.”
Photo: Joshua Earle
At the annual gratitude celebration, our friend Faith Romeo took on the task of making sure that everyone wrote 3 things for which they were grateful on the wall at the Canvas Café. For many people this was easy. For some, however, this was deeply challenging and brought up all sorts of emotions. Faith helped me to identify the people who were facing emotional challenges with being grateful so that we could sit together and could come out the other side. Everyone left the event with an understanding that gratitude isn’t about having an ideal life or even a fulfilling life but that by working through the small wonders in our day, we can build our emotional resilience to be able to take on the challenges that keep us from being fulfilled. I would like to believe that the event was the start of a transformational journey for some.
Faith shared with us her thoughts on the journey she has taken alongside TTDOG:
“When I attended the launch of Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude in the Canvas Café last year, things were going well in my personal life but could have been better in my working life. I had left my job as a teaching assistant to look after my son who’s behaviour had become unstable following a diagnosis of ADHD and was working in a unsatisfying job that was personally unrewarding.
Following the party, I decided to adopt a more positive approach to life, an attitude of gratitude, if you will. I applied and was accepted as a volunteer youth wellbeing trainer for a charity that delivers mindfulness and wellbeing sessions to young people. Part of this scheme is that I have to develop my own mindfulness practice, which has been very beneficial to me but also to those around me too. In the last year since the launch of TTDOG there have been a lot of changes in my life.
I got married in November to my long term partner and have never been more happy or fulfilled. I feel very fortunate to have a loving husband and son and never forget how lucky I am to have both. I returned to teaching assistant work in January. It took working under a terrible manager for me to realise that I needed to leave a job I didn’t like. Since returning to teaching assistant work I am working in a lovely school, with some amazing children. I can honestly say that this is my vocation and I feel incredibly lucky to be working in a job that I love.”
Photo: Daniel Watson
Seeing gratitude practice transform others has been one of the highlights of the last two years for me, personally. With gratitude, we added joy, when a long time friend, Paula Montgomery started posting about moments of joy in her life. We noticed that gratitude practice created that joy and so, in the first year of practice, we made that connection more explicit in our writings. TTDOG is grateful to Paula for that prompt. And in turn, it is rewarding to hear that she, too, has gained something from the experience:
“Since being part of the Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude community and having the chance to reflect on gratitude on my life, I have become less angry and judgemental. I find that having gratitude for what I have in my life, instead of focusing on what I don’t have, takes the edge off my demeanor and makes me more understanding. I have some unhappy negative people around me who complain about everything and everyone, and knowing that we all have allot to be grateful for helps me keep a positive perspective, and to feel better about my life.
I am very grateful for a community that reminds me everyday that I have much to be grateful for! Thank you.”
Photo: Thomas Kelley
I am delighted to present to you some of the key voices that have been part of this journey. The community that keeps me accountable to keep coming back to the basic practice. This summer has been tough. The last 18 months have been tough. Honestly, the last 3 years have been tough. But this practice really has been like drinking an emotional energy drink. Without taking the time to come back to and reflect upon those things for which I am grateful, the moments of everyday joy, my sense of oneness with something greater than myself and the reminder to give back, life really would be meaningless, for me. When we have meaning, we can withstand any temporary trials, stresses, health concerns and problems because we are living a life of purpose. My purpose, I hope, is to make the world a better place, by the way that I live.
This year, I chose to feature several people who also seem to be living their life on purpose to make the world a better place and to build up that community of positive change makers. And so, we went back to the seminal moment that prompted that series – an article about the charitable work of Dr. Alicia Altorfer-Ong. Writing to us from Asia, she said:
“I think you are the community. The value of the springboard that you’ve given each person is in affirming, encouraging, incubating. I often enjoy the “work” — the gritty and backstage bits — but not so much talking about it, because of the attention. Yet if we don’t tell people about what’s being done out there, we might miss an opportunity to teach touch or inspire.
The world needs connectors: people who seek nothing else than to bring others together.
I am grateful for the chance to have shared an episode/a belief/an anecdote in my life on TTDOG. I also appreciate the power and energy that I felt from reading about the others who were profiled.”
It has been a great journey for me, personally, these last two years. In many ways, the first year was so much easier. I was buoyed with the next milestone – one month, three months, six months, a year! Then the spectre of more than 27 years (Ten Thousand Days) of practice hit me, in the second year. This cannot be a project. This must become a way of living, if I am to achieve Ten Thousand Days. And so, in year two, the hard work began.
None of us is an island, and we need to draw inspiration from others. I have been so fortunate to have been able to bring you feature articles about artists and musicians and people living their lives on purpose to make the world a better place. James Wheale completed a crowdfunding campaign to install a sustainable pedal power energy source in the garden, and has brought new life into the world with the birth of his first son, this month. Action for Happiness has celebrated their 5 year anniversary and continues to grow its membership worldwide. Alexandra Jackman has become a contributing writer for Huffington Post and honoured with a university scholarship to be able to continue her education that will ultimately involve advocating for people on the autism spectrum. Elie Calhoun completed her crowd funding campaign and together with Code Innovation, is working on developing a rape crisis counselling app for survivors. Wrdsmth, Matthew Del Degan and Louis Masai have continued to thrive as artists, bringing their messages of inspiration, love and animal welfare across North America and Europe.
There are so many good news stories out there and so many good news moments in our lives. I don’t expect that the next 365 days will be easy. In fact, I anticipate that they will be very personally challenging with changes in my circumstances and personal life. But nobody said that living gratefully was always easy. I am individually grateful to CM, FR and LK who always remind me to come back to my practices when things get too difficult. Although it is difficult to carve out time to sleep, let alone write at the moment, it is a joy to sit with you readers and disclose myself each time. I feel a sense of communion and oneness with you, known and unknown readers and it is my ardent hope that if you’re having a bad day, week, month, or year – coming here gives you that sense of community as well. My service is simply to dedicate myself once again to keep showing up and together, I hope that the process creates meaning, for both of us.
Who knows where we will be in another 365 days? I hope that wherever it is, we arrive gratefully, safe, and together.
For those who could not attend Sunday’s milestone celebration of reaching 365 Days of Gratitude….
I am not one for big speeches but I wanted to just take a moment to thank you all for marking with me the passage of a milestone of 365 days of Gratitude practice. Well that’s Actually a year of Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service.
I realise that some of you have followed me on Facebook some have followed my blog and some had no idea I was doing this at all. It really wasn’t something I set out a year ago to do but as is the nature of the process, it kind of snowballed.
What began as a Facebook meme to post 3 things daily for which I am grateful quickly became a daily practice of appreciating 3 good things and noticing moments of joy. I felt the positive effects of the practice quickly and soon added a component of daily service and a daily practice of nurturing empathy, connection, compassion, awe and purpose. What started as a 7 days commitment snowballed into 21 days, a month, 3 months, 6 months, 9 months and now…a year of Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service.
And while we celebrate this milestone of a year, I am happy – and a little scared – to commit today to Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude practice and to continue to write about it. For you keen mathematicians and accountants here today, you will already have calculated that by the time I reach that milestone I will be more than 27 years old….er. 27.2 to be exact. If I am still around at that point, I will renew my vows, then.
You might wonder why I am making such a big commitment…well, it’s simple… After studying to write drama and fiction, I quit writing stories several years ago because I just couldn’t find my way to writing a happy ending. Writing about gratitude (and joy, oneness and service) has given me both the experience of and the ability to write about happiness. I think those who have been on the whole journey will agree that I have blossomed and I intend to see it through to the end.
I have already written a year’s worth of gratitude journals and observations on the practice and now it’s time to focus on shaping that into a book. I am also launching a new web magazine Ten ThousandDaysofGratitude.com and I am working to find a way to use my skills to work with the UK charity Action For Happiness.
My wish, if I can put it out there, is that others will pick up the practices and this will spread. So please, do spread the website far and wide.
I want to thank Ruth from Canvas café for giving us this space, Street Art curator, Greg Key (Instagram: @speckles76) for leading our lively street art tour, Dan Shears for providing us with some of his music, Luke Harvest for his work on setting up the website, C Michael Frey for the logo design, Faith Amy Romeo and Natasha Westover for being gratitude wall guardians, Debbie Heath for the original 7 day Facebook challenge, Paula Montgomery for prompting me to add Joy, all the street artists of London for the beautiful art that gave me so much joy, and Louis Masai for agreeing to be my first interview on my focus for the year ahead – Service. It hasn’t happened yet so watch for it in upcoming posts. A big thank you to all my readers here and overseas.
And of course I want to thank You all for being a part of my life. You have each been a part of my daily practice. Without you, I wouldn’t have much to say.
So, here’s to you. Thank you.
A Street Art Walk in Celebration of all the Street Art of London that has been part of the Joy of this year!
Greg Key, Street Art Exhibition Curator and Photographer took us around today and highlighted some of the works that have meant so much to me over the last year. Greg has been one of my street art mentors this year, helping me to get to know which artist is associated with which works and to find the works I’d like to see.
After a career in the entertainment business and in hospitality, Greg’s passions for modern art and particularly street art have created the hottest new curator on the London Art scene. He is curating his first show, “Underhand,” in London, opening 10 September, with a dazzling array of some of the finest talent on the London Streets today being represented. Check out the show:
Louis paints about endangered species, he says, in order create awareness for beings without a voice.
Louis went on to art college in Cornwall and was rather discouraged by his teachers not to pursue art as a way to make a living. In 2010 he moved to London where he has proved them wrong. While Louis does not like the image that the term ‘street art’ conjures and prefers to think of outdoor art as public art, his outdoor paintings in London, and particularly his campaign to save the bees (with Jim Vision) led to massive exposure of his work through social media. Since 2010 he has had at least 3 solo shows in London and has been included in several group shows. He continues to paint a combination of indoor and outdoor pieces with a focus on animals, giving them a human trait as human beings like to anthropomorphise animals.
A photo posted by Tania Campbell (@pinkstarpix) on
Personally: Louis Masai holds a special place in my heart. In the midst of the first few days after leaving work, a friend posted an article about Louis. My friend and I are both champions of environmental issues and both have a special interest in water. I was aware of the dangers facing the honey bee, but seeing Louis work made me take street art a little more seriously than I had done. I started following him and his work to find that he not only was concerned with the bee but also with endangered species and biodiversity loss. Louis has worked with activists like the IUCN on the RED Endangered Species List to raise awareness through his paintings and of course he and Jim Vision created the whole bee project and worked with beekeepers, honey users in manufacturing things like candles, honey, beer and with seed companies who provided seeds that were distributed where he painted in order to help the public re-conceptualize where and how to plant seeds to protect the bee habitats. Louis doesn’t really sit comfortably with the idea of being an activist per se. The intersections between art and music are another area that interests him. He considers himself an artist, but does recognize that his paintings and his visual language have a power to raise awareness and make people engage emotionally with the issues and he does make visits to schools to talk to young people about art, the environment and about music. When it became clear to me that my friend’s mother was unwell, I made it a mission to find whatever murals still remained of Louis’ bees. I contacted Greg here on instagram and asked the location of the murals. I wanted to send some cheer in a very dark time to my friend. Greg kindly offered to show them to me but given the reason why I was photographing them, I decided to go alone. I didn’t know how serious the illness was and within hours of sending the photos, my friend’s mother passed away. So Louis (and also, Greg) will always be a part of that tender moment. Later, I had the good fortune to be able to attend a solo show of Louis’ and I found what I already knew would be the case – a passionate, purposeful and open hearted soul with a heart breaking sensitivity to the decline in biodiversity and loss of species that is accelerating around us today. That night, I bought my first piece of street art as a gift to myself for my birthday. It really was quite accessible for a painting. Of course, it was a bee. And I plan to buy more and support his work in the future. Follow Louis online: www.louismasai.com Follow Louis on Instagram: www.instagram.com/louismasai Follow Louis on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/louismasaimichel?fref=ts 2. Anna Laurini (paint, paintedpaste up) Anna Laurini, is an Italian painter from the abstract expressionist school who works in acrylic,collage and mixed media. On the street her paintingsreflect a cubist style. Her work ranges from cubist to non-representational expressionist and touches on a kind ofneo-plasticsm with abstract and vibrant geometric shapes. Shehas been painting for more than 20 years. She has studied at Central Saint Martins in London and at the Art Student League in New York City and the F.I.T. in New York. In case you’re wondering that is the Fashion Institute of Technology. For that past 10 years, she has lived and worked between London, Milan, and New York City.
A photo posted by Tania Campbell (@pinkstarpix) on
Personally: Our paths have criss-crossed for those 20 years but we only met this year. She is Italian, as I said, but she lived in New York around the same time I did in the mid to late 1990s. She moved to London about ten years ago and her paintings have been sold in London, New York, Australia, I asked her why she paints on the streets and she told me it was for fun and also because of the same experience I’ve mentioned from the other artists – it gets exposure. Her street paintings currently feature the face of a woman and a man – although she has told me that if you prefer, you can see in them two women or two men. She uses the faces and the couple because they are very quick to paint on the street and as I’m coming to understand, all artists seem to have a character that is associated with them and is in a way – their brand – though this she did not tell me, I’m just figuring this out. When I first saw her faces, I fell in love with them. There is something very different about these pieces to the rest of the paste ups or paintings on the street. They’re cheerful. She must have hit the area I was walking hard because when I first noticed her faces, I suddenly saw three in one day and I was on a mission to find out who painted them. I was certain the person behind the faces was a very interesting person, indeed. Anna often adds the text that inspires the painting to her works – sometimes it is a quote from a philosopher and sometimes it is a song. To me, the reason I love her paintings are that they are so vibrant and positive – something that isn’t popular in art but I think should be – her work enlivens my spirit while making me think. You can’t get better than that as a result, from a piece of art. A sample of Anna’s paintings: http://www.saatchiart.com/annalaurini Follow Anna on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/anna-laurini/45169637820 Follow Anna on Instagram: www.instagram.com/annalauriniblue 3. ALO (painting, hand painted paste up) The Saatchi gallery, where ALO had a solo show in 2014 describes ALO this way:
“ALO is an Italian artist based in London. His first works appeared in the streets of Perugia, Rome and Milan. Subsequently, the artist expanded his practice to include works on canvas and found materials as well as continuing to install works on walls in London, Paris, Berlin and elsewhere in Europe. The artist describes his style as ‘Urban Expressionism’.”
As mentioned, ALO was the focus of a solo exhibition, Hail to the Loser, at the Saatchi Gallery last year.
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I had taken a street art tour in 2010 and I learned some of the main artists around at that time who Greg may show you today – names like Stik, Cityzenkane, and JimmyC. I remembered being delighted to see JimmyC paint while we were walking around Shoreditch and so when I decided to go out and find something to shoot for my new Instagram account last year, I set out to find a JimmyC painting. Across the street was this very interesting paste up of a person that drew me from across the road.
The piece struck me as conveying the angst and energy of German expressionism between the wars with a very modern feel. I looked all around it because his pieces often have words embedded as part of the art as if jar and force the viewer out of any intimate engagement with the representational form and designed to make you think about the image, rather than simply feel it. At least that’s what it does for me.
I remember looking at the writing on the side and thinking AILO? What is AILO? I didn’t realise it was ALO but it was one of the first pieces I posted in an attempt to identify the artist.
Recently, I saw another piece of ALO’s work near Liverpool street and I noticed the word ribbon in the hair of the figure. I really hadn’t noticed those details when I was looking at the art on the street. Anyone who knows me knows that I like to look at art very very slowly and I take my time with a piece so you don’t really want to go to a gallery with me…I will spend the whole day there. On the street, however, I look quickly. I snap the shot and move on because I am influenced by the hurried feeling of being on the street in London. When I saw that detail, I realised that I wasn’t giving these pieces their due and I decided to go out and find a piece by ALO and when I did, to let his work remind me to slow down and really take in the art on the street as if I were in a gallery. It was a wonderful lesson for me.
This anonymous artist has littered the streets of London with his skeleton figures for the past few years. Painted on walls around the east end of London and on discarded pieces of cardboard free for passers by to admire or to take – These macabre yet playful figures on one hand remind us of our own mortality and on the other show a whimsical take on our existence.
Like Basquiat, Skeleton Cardboard uses primitive images to challenge the consumer culture that alienates the individual in a world where technology creates the perfect image at the expense of intimacy.
Skeleton Cardboard’s recent show in Shoreditch was a smash success and he currently has installed a piece in a group show at the Lollipop Gallery in London.
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Personally: When I was walking around the streets in East London, I found these cheerful skeletons that looked like they were dancing and making fun of the consumer culture of the 21st century. They made me laugh and as I anonymously appreciated and photographed the street art around town, I found the skeletons became like friends, meeting me here on Redchurch street, popping up over on Sclater street and then surprising me with a big fat hello on Bethnal Green Road. The first ‘secret location’ show I attended (at the invitation of Savant) was Skeleton’s show in London. A delightful man, I ventured to tell him what I thought about his art and I mentioned another famous street artist. I hoped he wouldn’t be offended that I had to resort to a comparison, but it was the right thing to say. He had been greatly influenced by the other artist and I was happy that the way I had interpreted his work aligned with his intent. He has given me confidence to say what I think when I engage with art. His work makes me smile and it also makes me think. A sample of Skeleton Cardboard’s paintings: https://wellhung.co.uk/artists/skeleton-cardboard/ Follow Skeleton Cardboard online: www.Skeletoncardboard.tumblr.com Follow Skeleton Cardboard on Instagram: www.instagram.com/skeletoncardboard Follow Skeleton Cardboard on Facebook: Scot Bared Kolanerd / Skeletoncardboard 5. PLIN (paint) PLIN is an anonymous US based artist who works with paint and paste up. His figures create a whimsical look at modern man in all his angst and joy. PLIN’s art celebrates the potential of positive images to create a more thoughtful, engaged and happier community and society.
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There is a running theme in a lot of the art that has been part of my life and my practices this year has been that which is cheerful, intelligent, makes me laugh or becomes a ‘friend’ on the street. I started noticing PLIN’s toothy faces some time ago, and for the longest time, the piece on Quaker street made me smile every time I passed it. Like a friend saying hello on Brick Lane, the face on the corner told me to have a great day photographing art or wished me to get home safe when I was heading down to the night bus. They look a bit ferocious these faces, but to me, like an older brother that looks out for you, they are comforting.
I had the pleasure to meet the artist recently and discovered an intelligent, poetic soul. I will never forget what PLIN said to me: ” Street artists have a duty to paint every day here” because of the relative freedom that artists in London enjoy. It made me think of my own writing and the fact that I have lived in reasonably free societies. I think its a duty to write every day and maybe sometimes to say some uncomfortable truths. That is how we defend our right to free speech and truth – by exercising it. I am grateful to PLIN for that insight.
Follow PLIN on Instagram: www.instagram.com/monsu_plin
6. Fanakapan (graffiti artist and painter – paint)
Fanakapan is a British artist best known for his realistic yet whimsical and luminescent balloon animals and letters. He is a pop artist, using commonly known images in uncommon and unexpected ways. His images often evoke memories of childhood, sometimes evoking happier times, sometimes injecting a dark sense of humour to his images of innocence. Fanakapan works throughout Europe and in collaboration with other artists.
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Personally: It’s no surprise that these cheerful and sometimes darkly comic figures would appeal to me. When you see Fanakapan’s balloon figures lighting up the streets, its like there is a birthday party going on everywhere. In a difficult time in my life, Fanakapan’s art made me happy. My favourite piece that I had the good fortune to see has been painted over but that is the beauty of photography. In fact, when I saw it for the first time, Pharrel’s song ‘Happy’ came to mind. I know its not a deep analysis of his work but I don’t care. It moved me and it made me feel good. We need more of that in this world. The very first live painting event I ever attended was because I saw that Fanakapan was advertising it on Instagram and I wanted to see the artist paint. I was still too shy to say hi, but I loved watching the artist paint. Follow Fanakapan on Instagram: www.instagram.com/fanakapan 7. Savant (painting, paste up and collage) Savant is an anonymous British paste up artist whose art is of the original political genre of art with disruptive messages. Savant’s work challenges the structures of society and the loss of critical thinking. His works include both images and words and displays a wry sense of humour. His images depict the sinister side of complacency and the death of the “individual” in the modern world. His paste ups which use words, on the other hand, prompt the viewer to stop and to think, and moreover, to question the process of thought itself, thereby saving themselves from the oblivion that is the modern consumer culture. Being paste up, these works are more transient than paintings and are part of a street conversation where other artists and viewers contribute to the dialogue with their own disruptive messages. In this way, Savant is one of the artists on the London streets that is upholding and defending free speech and political discourses of the “common man on the street.”
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The first day I went out photographing street art to do something with my instagram account, I encountered several artists that I would continue to follow in the future. Savant was one of these first. The first piece I saw by Savant was a collage paste up that said “Art is Dead” but it had been degraded and hit by a graff who had ripped off the “Dead” and had written in the word “Jesus.” I liked that: Art is Jesus. I really liked that. It not only spoke of a dialogue between Savant and the anonymous graff, but it challenged me to think – what did I believe? – Is art dead, or is it a spiritual salvation. For me, I knew it was the latter.
Savant was really the first artist who invited me to meet other artists. I had given the artist a positive quality of them and their work on my How to Fall in Love with Anyone photo series on Instagram and I received and invitation to a Skeleton’s show with Savant’s partner and friends. I felt very warmly welcomed into a world full of wonderful, creative, intelligent and positive people. I am grateful to Savant for that and I love to find new pieces that make me think.
Follow Savant on Instagram: www.instagram.com/seanussavant
Follow Savant on Facebook: www.facebook.com/seanussavant
8. WRDMSTH (paint stencil and paste up)
WRDSMTH is an American artist. He is a street artist and writer living in LA and he posts a new piece daily around the world. His signature is a stencil painted typewriter with a pasted up saying above it. Each of his paste ups are inspirational or romantic in nature and are designed with the feel good factor. He began pasting up the street art in November, 2013 and intended only to continue until he had 1K Instagram followers. He currently has just shy of 50K followers and continues to post daily. WRDSMTH has always loved street art and as a kid was intrigued by the graffiti messages he would see on walls. After a good year creatively (ie in front of the computer) he took up street art as an active and creative outlet that would give him a daily break from the relentlessness of sitting in front of a computer screen, writing.
He was born in the Midwest, worked as an advertising copywriter and then moved to LA to pursue his dream of writing. When asked why he has taken up street art, he has said: “I write things on walls that I wished people would have said to me when I first moved here.” (TheLAgirl.com)
When asked for his mission statement, WRDSMTH has said “WRDSMTH aspires to inspire others on a dialy basis with colourful and well-chosen words crafted into indelible thoughts that are temporarily tattooed onto walls around the world…” (hdfmagazine.com)
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Personally: For me, WRDSMTH is extremely dear and speaks to the writer in me as well as the person who has struggled from a rather beaten down and physically unwell individual a year ago to who I am now. In the course of trying to get well this year, I dusted off the old writing pen and paper and tapped the keyboard for months until the rust was gone and things started working again. For me, both my writing and my sense of positivity has grown in the process and along the way, this anonymous fellow writer was sending out positive messages that, some days, I needed so very badly. I follow him on Instagram and Facebook because I don’t always see a new piece in London but I can see a new piece daily on social media. WRDSMTH has come to be a little bit of a cheerleader in my head and really represents for me, personally, what PLIN talks about – the positive power to street art to change the world. Follow WRDSMTH on Instagram: www.instagram.com/wrdsmth Follow WRDSMTH on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WRDSMTHinLA?fref=ts 9. D7606 (paste up) A relative newcomer to the London street art scene, anonymous paste up artist D7606 juxtaposes vibrant crayon box coloured images of iconic objects with iconic star personalities to create pop art paste ups that brighten the city streets. A pop artist, he collaborates with other artists and has made a name for himself for being a great collaborator. Most notably, his work is usually seen with painter and paste-up artist C-3. The name D7606 is taken from the model of a British train engine from an era when he was a train photographer, but he is quick to note that he is not a trainspotter. He is not an artist by trade or training but his passion for the street art he was photographing on his rambles in East London took him into creating his own works. He takes great joy in seeing his work up on the streets of London and being seen, enjoyed and photographed by thousands of people a week.
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I knew D7606 on Instagram before I had ever seen a piece of the artist’s work. Mr. D kindly tagged the art that I was photographing and posting on Instagram and quickly became a street art mentor to me. When I photograph a piece of art, I am well aware that the beauty of it is all in the artist’s hand, not my camera. My job is to hold the camera straight and still, not to add weird photos and then to give proper credit to the artist. Mr. D helped me to do that. I don’t actually think I would have become so interested in street art this year if it hadn’t been for Mr. D. The day I spotted my first piece by D7606, I was so excited – here I had found a treasure left behind on the London streets by Mr. D. I went to Upfest specifically to meet Mr. D and say thanks for all his help this year.
Originally from France but based in London, Zabou is an exciting street art talent who, since bursting onto the scene in 2012 has been gaining a growing reputation for her striking art. Her images are a mixture of stencil and freehand technique, combining both sharp lines, colourful shades, dripping and splashes of paint. She plays on stereotypes and pokes fun at conformity, from spray painting nuns to satirical takes on the surveillance state.
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Personally: You will recognize Zabou’s art from the image used for the milestone event today. Zabou’s work makes me smile and is bright and cheerful and that’s why I like it. She is irreverent and that aligns with my own sense of humour. I had the pleasure to briefly meet Zabou artist at Upfest and like many of the street artists we finally meet, she was nothing like I expected her to be. Firstly, I thought she was a he. I somehow thought that her large scale murals were the work of a man. It was a delight to find that she was a charming young woman with the courage to be so wonderfully outspoken through her images. There are a couple of pieces by Zabou on the streets of Paris that I hope to see. They are much more poignant and beautiful. I’d very much like to see that side of her art. Follow Zabou online: www.zabou.me Follow Zabou on Instagram: www.instagram.com/zabouartist Follow Zabou on Facebook: www.facebook.com/zabou.artist
The Music of 365 Days of Gratitude
Dan Shears EP’s were available for those who attended as a little thank you for coming. A little taster from Dan’s Youtube channel for those who could not make it:
As you know, Music is one of the things for which I am most grateful. And, over the year, I have written many times about how much I am grateful for music. Many times it has been for certain artists that have meant so much to me like Jesse Cook, Dan Shears, DJ Sheb i Shabbah, Jai Uttal and Krishna Das, but over the year I have posted happy songs as well, and so I put together a playlist of music that meant something to me this year for the party. I have to thank Milo V- for adding a few updates to my music taste which tended to run from sappy housewife to runaway yogi to 50 year old gay man. You’ll still find my personality all over it, don’t worry. I chose all the songs and their order. DJ Pinkstarpix Lola Sumangali in da house! Don’t be put off with the Sanskrit at the beginning. I have played Jai Uttal to invoke Ganesha because it is good to invoke Ganesh at the start of any new venture (oh I dunno – like TEN THOUSAND DAYS OF GRATITUDE, perhaps?) and I have closed by thanking the patron God of all Bhaktans like me – Krishna. I have had the pleasure to sing with both meant at kirtan and they fill my heart, always. If you couldn’t be there, I hope the videos will give you a sense of the spirit of the day. As always, please buy the music. I have chosen youtube videos rather than Spotify simply to encourage you to support the artist by buying the actual songs. DJ Pinstarpix Lola Sumangali’s 365 Days of Gratitude Mix
Spreading the Practice:
I want YOU to be happy. No strings attached. I just want you to be happy. Please consider taking up some of this practice into your own life? Almost everyone attending today’s celebration wrote something when asked for 3 things for which they are grateful. Here is the result: